Given that I've blogged on a couple of internationals (James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly) the past couple of weeks, and that in my "A" post I said I would regularly sprinkle my contributions with a New Zealand-related post or two, this week I am going to feature new Kiwi mystery writer Dorothy Fowler. Her debut novel WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, an archaeological mystery, was published earlier this year, and she is speaking at at the first ever Waiheke Island books festival, Words on a Small Island, later this week.
Dorothy Fowler lives on Waiheke Island, a gulf island in the Auckland harbour, and has come to writing a little later in life.
Her path to publication is a little unusual; she had returned to university as an adult student after many years of diverse jobs, including renovating houses and boat building, when she decided to take a creative writing course as part of completing her Bachelor of Arts (BA) in ancient history and archaeology. Her creative writing tutor happened to be iconic New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera, whose award-winning works have included the book that became acclaimed film Whale Rider.
After taking one creative writing course with Ihimaera, Fowler was hooked, and went on to a place in a small but diverse class in Ihimaera's very selective Masters programme - during which time she worked on WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, mentored by both Ihimaera and award-winning New Zealand author Emily Perkins.
"None of us had done our first degree in English,” said Fowler to her hometown newspaper Gulf News, when talking about the course in which students were asked to write a 70-90,000 word novel to second draft stage between March and October. “There were two psychologists, one lawyer, a girl who’d done a Masters in German, and another who had a Masters in Russian. We became close and started an informal wine drinking group as well.”
Fowler wrote what became WHAT REMAINS BEHIND during the course, and she was thrilled when it was picked up for publication by Random House New Zealand soon after - the only manuscript from a new writer they are publishing this year (from the 600 or so they receive from hopeful new/unpublished writers annually).
WHAT REMAINS BEHIND is a mystery set amongst the excavation of a site of a religious Kaipara Harbour community, which burnt to the ground in the 1880s. As the site is uncovered, so are secrets, and unpalatable truths are revealed about the events on the night of the fire. The publisher's blurb states: "When Chloe digs up more than shards of pottery, she realises that the site holds secrets that will not stay buried, and their effect on the present is devastating. Moving between a diary written in the 1880s and the current day, this compelling novel has murder, mystery, love, lust - and archaeology."
You can read an extract from WHAT REMAINS BEHIND here.
I read WHAT REMAINS BEHIND several weeks ago, and overall I enjoyed the read. It has a slow build, and pulls you in gradually, unfolding leisurely rather than having an early/graphic hook - so it may not suit some hardboiled or police procedural fans, but cosy and amateur detective fans are likely to really enjoy it (although it isn't a classicly-structured Golden Age-style whodunnit). You can read my full review of the archaeological mystery here.
Speaking to the Gulf News, Fowler described her taste in fiction as ‘classic whodunnits’; Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh. “But I didn’t realise how much craft goes into the writing. For this novel, I mapped it all out and knew where I was heading. For my next one, which I’ve already started, I am playing it a bit more by ear. If there’s a third, I think I’ll go back to having a more detailed plan before I start.”
Fowler has recently emailed me saying she is currently on the second draft of the next Chloe Davis novel, which will be set on Waiheke Island. It's great to see more Kiwi crime/thriller/mystery novelists coming through, and I look forward to her next offering.